A Brief History of MUFON
By John F. Schuessler, Former International Director [2000 - 2006]
MUFON officially began on May 31, 1969. At that time it was known as the Midwest UFO Network. As it outgrew the Midwestern state boundaries to become a world class UFO organization, the name was changed to Mutual UFO Network. That allowed the acronym MUFON to remain as the organization matured. Allen Utke, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Wisconsin State University was selected as the first MUFON Director. A year later Walter H. Andrus, Jr., replaced Dr. Utke as the MUFON Director, a position he held until 2000 when he retired and John F. Schuessler took over as International Director. John retired in November 2006 and James Carrion became the International Director. James Carrion resigned at the end of 2009 and Clifford Clift became the International Director. He resigned in January 2012 and David MacDonald became took over. And now, at the 2013 MUFON Symposium in Las Vegas, Jan Harzan became the new Executive Director.
MUFON is born...
During the 1960s Walt Andrus worked hard as a member of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) to develop a cadre of qualified investigators living in the Midwestern states surrounding his home state of Illinois. In 1967, he organized the Tri-State UFO Study Group operating in the states of Missouri, Iowa and Illinois and he recruited John Schuessler to join him as an investigator and volunteer as a consultant to APRO.
During 1968 and 1969, a number of events took place that had an impact on the UFO field. The University of Colorado completed the government-financed UFO study, with the study head Edward Condon presenting a very negative picture of the worth of further UFO studies. These results enabled the U.S. Air Force to close its administrative UFO office dubbed “Project Blue Book.” The press didn’t bother to look at the details of the University study and reacted only to Condon’s summary of the study by using the media to declare that the UFO mystery was solved.
At the same time the APRO management reacted to the government’s words by reinforcing their centralized management approach. They wanted to direct the work of each investigator in the field from the office in Tucson, Arizona; thereby eliminating the need for mid-level management in the field. They ignored the fact that industry was turning to the decentralized management style. Walt was still getting a flow of UFO reports from the Midwest in spite of the government’s declarations that nothing was going on. To respond with alacrity, Walt needed the latitude to induct and train field investigators and to make decisions about how investigations were conducted in his own back yard.
Pleas to the APRO management only made them more determined that the Midwest contingent was a hindrance rather than a help to APRO. Walt coordinated with a number of the affected Mid-western workers and finally concluded that it was necessary to add some grassroots structure to the organization because the sightings were happening in local areas. The only way to deal quickly and effectively was to have people ready and enabled to respond when a report came in. On May 31, 1969, Walt convened a meeting of a number of the active UFO investigators from Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas. In the interest of improving and correlating UFO observation reports, Allen R. Utke, Ph.D., Consultant to APRO in Chemistry and Associate Professor of Chemistry at Wisconsin State University in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, proposed the organization of the Midwest UFO Network to include the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.
MUFON, then to be known as the Midwest UFO Network was born as the grass roots organization envisioned by Allen & Walt. An observer network in community areas formed the basic investigating level in MUFON. The observers reported through geographical state section directors to the State Director. The State Directors made up the Board of Directors who reported to the Midwest UFO Network Director. Dr. Utke was selected as the first MUFON Director. It was decided that MUFON would be affiliated with APRO, but not controlled by APRO. This was seen as an early step in inter-organization cooperation, a hallmark for the future of MUFON.
For some time Walt, John and several others had been active contributors to SKYLOOK, a Missouri-based UFO newsletter edited and published by Mrs. Norma Short. As a result, SKYLOOK quickly became the official organ of the Midwest UFO Network. Although the name was eventually changed to the MUFON UFO Journal, the publication continues and issues are still distributed monthly.
Walt Andrus replaces Dr.Utke as head of MUFON...
Soon after the 1970 Peoria conference, Dr. Utke resigned his position as the Midwest UFO Network Director and the Board of Directors unanimously selected Walt Andrus as his successor. The selection of Walt as director was a wise choice. Walt was employed by the Motorola Company, as Assistant Plant Manager for the facility in Quincy, Illinois. Coupled with his experience in UFO investigations, aviation experience, weather monitoring experience, and ham radio experience, Walt brought his strong business management and human resources knowledge to the leadership role of MUFON.
Under Walt’s leadership, MUFON soon outgrew the Midwest. Individuals from around the world recognized the potential of the grass roots nature of MUFON and clamored to join. In 1973, the name was changed to eliminate the regional connotation of “Midwest.” The acronym “MUFON” was retained, as was the organizational concept of “UFO Network.” Since the word “mutual” best described MUFON’s dedication to sharing UFO information and research data, the new name for MUFON became the Mutual UFO Network.
MUFON recognized the need for cooperation and communication...
While some organizations were telling their members they couldn’t belong to other organizations at the same time or that they should avoid cooperating with other organizations, MUFON was looking for ways to increase cooperation in the UFO field. Some examples of MUFON's cooperative ventures are shown below.
MUFON’s credentials and summaries of MUFON activities were continuously presented to hundreds of writers, newspaper reporters, radio and television program representatives, television producers, independent researchers and MUFON members.
By June 1974, MUFON’s growth had been phenomenal, with state section representatives in 38 of the 50 states. Along with the growth in MUFON, it became obvious there was a need for growth in cooperation between MUFON and other organizations. In an article entitled “How MUFON Will Interact With UFO Study Center,” published in the June 1974 issue of SKYLOOK, Walt described a vision for cooperation with Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s Center for UFO Studies. He said: “The Center for UFO Studies is basically a research center without the benefits of an organized field investigative network needed to secure the raw data. MUFON ideally fulfills this essential function and thus complements the Center.” Contact information for MUFON state directors and state section directors was provided to the Center’s administrative office. When the Center received notification of UFO activity, they could trigger an investigation by contacting the nearest MUFON state representative. When the investigation was finished, copies of the investigative reports went to both the MUFON and CUFOS headquarters.
In 1982, when members from several UFO organizations called for greater cooperation between organizations, the 1982 MUFON UFO Symposium in Toronto became the ideal vehicle to bring the leaders of the various UFO organizations together to discuss the issue. MUFON hosted a one-day meeting following the symposium where 50 people met in a brainstorming session to chart the direction for a proposed federation for North American UFO groups. The theme of the meeting was: “Cooperation, Sharing, and Establishing Ufology as a Science Through Professionalism in Investigation and Research.” The meeting resulted in the formation of a steering committee comprised of representatives attending the summit conference to meet, develop an organization structure, address the goals and objectives, and communicate this information to participating groups. John Schuessler was elected to head the steering committee.
One year later, at the 1983 MUFON UFO Symposium in Pasadena, California, the steering committee’s work resulted in the formation of the North American UFO Federation (NAUFOF). Dr. Richard Haines was selected as the first director of the new organization. Although the federation lasted less than two years, due to lack of financial support from other organizations, it was a very important test case for bringing people with an interest in UFOs together.
Following the end of NAUFOF, Dr. Haines saw an opportunity for cooperation between Russian and U.S. ufologists and formed the Joint USA-CIS Aerial Anomaly Federation, and MUFON pledged to support this new venture. A major meeting of the participants, including representatives from Russia and the Ukraine, was held in conjunction with the 1994 MUFON UFO Symposium in Austin, Texas.
In 1994, Robert Bigelow suggested working with a coalition of U.S. UFO organizations comprised of MUFON, the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) and the Fund for UFO Research (FUFOR). By 1995, the groups involved had formed the UFO Research Coalition (URC), and they have continued working together on a number of very successful projects including the Ambient Monitoring Project aimed at measuring environmental changes during on-going abduction experiences. When an organization has several thousand members, it is difficult for the leader to communicate sufficiently enough with the members to satisfy their needs. If he/she responded to letters from all the members, then nothing else would get done but letter writing. To alleviate this problem a “Director’s Message” was added to each issue of the MUFON UFO Journal.
The MUFON UFO Journal is one of the best and most reliable UFO publications in the world. This is not by accident. MUFON has been blessed by having a series of excellent and dedicated Journal editors. Over the years, the International Director had the additional task of assuring that the Journal was published on schedule. Only a few times in the history of MUFON has that not been the case. In 2010, Clifford Clift, appointed an editorial committee to oversee the content of the journal and assure it is published on time. In addition to the monthly distribution of the Journals, in 2005, all back issues of the Journal were scanned and made available on word-searchable CD-ROMs available through the MUFON Store.
When it became obvious there was a need for training MUFON UFO investigators and assuring consistency in the way they conducted investigations and made reports, MUFON developed the MUFON Field Investigator’s Manual, with the first edition being published in December 1971. The manual is revised periodically to assure it is up-to-date.
John Schuessler replaces Walter Andrus as head of MUFON...
In 2000, Walt Andrus retired and the MUFON Board of Directors selected John Schuessler as the new MUFON International Director. John was one of the founding members of MUFON in 1969. He served as a state director, consultant and at the time he replaced Walt as International Director, he held the position of Deputy Director of Administration under Walt, so he was ready to take over and keep the organization running. The headquarters office was moved to Littleton, Colorado.
John had a strong background in aerospace engineering, space operations and program management. He led design engineering and space operation teams at McDonnell Douglas on the Mercury, Gemini, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. Because of his breadth of experience in the space program he was selected as the McDonnell Douglas Director of Engineering and that was followed by his selection as Director of Operations, responsible for engineering, finance, security, human resources, and facilities for McDonnell Douglas Aerospace and later Boeing Aerospace located in Houston. In his last major role at Boeing he was the Program Manager for the design, development and construction of the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Facility (i.e. six million gallon underwater training facility) in Houston and received the NASA Public Service Medal for the quality, timeliness and cost management of the project.
In 2001, the MUFON Board of Directors was restructured to take on a business management role and guide the way MUFON operated. From that point on, board members have had a strong business background as well as significant experience in UFO investigations and research. By 2005 all past issues of the MUFON UFO Journal and the annual symposium proceedings had been scanned and were available in word-searchable CD-ROMs. This was an instant benefit to researchers.
In 2006 James Carrion volunteered to head up a project MUFON called the Pandora Project. It was aimed at continuing the scanning effort by scanning all MUFON UFO information and reports dating back to the beginning of the organization in 1969. He personally defined the project and assured that MUFON would have a useful UFO database at its conclusion. That work is still on-going.
One of the best improvements in MUFON's handling of UFO reports during this era was the development of the computerized Case Management System (CMS). This system was developed by a team headed by Jan Harzan and revolutionized the way UFO reports were handled. It is available for reporting UFO incidents by the public anywhere in the world via the MUFON website (www.mufon.com). As soon as a report hits the CMS, it is automatically dispatched to the Director of Investigations and to the appropriate State Director for action. A rapid-response team has been organized and is used for high value cases. Another value of the CMS is that it is the repository for all UFO cases coming to MUFON and the results of all investigations are plugged back into the CMS as the work progresses. People everywhere are interested in when and where UFO incidents are reported and they may follow this on the MUFON website where they can see a listing of the latest 20 UFO reports at any time. The CMS also automatically alerts the MUFON investigative team when multiple reports appear to indicate something big is going on and that information also goes to the rapid-response teams. The CMS is continually being improved and many more capabilities are being made that will automate more of the CMS functions.
James Carrion replaces John Schuessler as head of MUFON...
In November 2006, John Schuessler retired as MUFON’s International Director and James Carrion was selected as his replacement. The headquarters was relocated to Fort Collins, Colorado. In 2008, James Carrion, Jan Harzan, Chuck Modlin and John Schuessler met with Robert Bigelow and his team to seek ways to establish cooperation between the organizations. Later, Carrion negotiated a contract with Bigelow Aerospace that allowed MUFON to organize a funded rapid-response effort that could put investigators in the field on high value UFO cases within 24-hours. It also gave Bigelow Aerospace access to the MUFON Case Management System. Unfortunately, dissident UFO buffs quickly came up with nonsense conspiracy theories about the cooperative agreement and spread malcontent and disinformation about it across the Internet. James Carrion resigned in 2009.
Clifford Clift replaces James Carrion as head of MUFON...
MUFON board member Clifford Clift volunteered to head MUFON after the loss of James Carrion and was able to keep MUFON moving forward. He immediately moved the MUFON headquarters to Greeley, Colorado, hired an accounting firm to handle MUFON's finances, and obtained funds from the MUFON Board Members to keep the organization afloat. He had to make some difficult decisions in replacing some state directors that were not working in the best interests of the organization and that again riled the dissident UFO buffs and they used the Internet to rail against Clifford Clift and the MUFON Board of Directors. Even so, he was able to cut operational costs, stabilize the MUFON financial situation, cut the financial losses associated with the annual MUFON International UFO Symposium, and continue the improvements to the Case Management System, the MUFON UFO Journal, and field investigations. Cliff led the organization until the end of January 2012 when he stepped down for personal reasons.
The MUFON Business Board Intern System is born...
To assure continuity in membership of the MUFON Board of Directors, an intern program for future board members was implemented in 2011. As a result MUFON continues to have a 9-member board supplemented by three intern board members. The interns have all of the privileges of other board members except they are not voting members. This change assures that as current board members step down, there is always a intern member that is up-to-speed on all MUFON issues ready to step up.
David MacDonald replaces Clifford Clift as head of MUFON...
David MacDonald, an intern Board Member, was selected to replace Clifford Clift in February 2012. MacDonald has a strong business background and a life-long interest in UFOs. He moved the MUFON headquarters to Cincinnati, Ohio. He runs Flamingo Air, Inc., a full blown Air Carrier Operation and Flamingo Air Academy, the nation's largest FAA approved Aircraft Dispatcher Certification School. He is a professional pilot and an avid scuba diver. His business background includes establishing the MacDonald Defense Company, the largest independent security firm in the region, opening a manufacturing firm which produced an array of wireless microphones, listening devices, and other clandestine gizmos. He served eight years as a peace officer in Kentucky. His involvement in MUFON includes: State Director for Kentucky, Field Investigator Administrator, STAR Team Administrative Director and Assistant Director of Investigations and in 2011 he was selected as an Interim Board Member.
Jan C. Harzan replaces David MacDonald as head of MUFON...
At the 2013 MUFON Symposium in Las Vegas, it was announced that Jan C. Harzan would be taking over the role of Executive Director. Jan is a graduate of the UCLA School of Engineering and spent 37 years with IBM in sales and marketing executive management before retiring to become Executive Director of MUFON. His career included being IBM Branch manager in Orange County, CA. IBM Services Executive in Vancouver, Canada, and IBM Senior Project Executive on the Boeing, Disney, and Technicolor accounts over the last 14 years of his career managing large outsourcing contracts for IBM. Jan has been actively involved with MUFON since 1991. In 1995 he was appointed by State Director Georgeanne Cifarelli to State Section Director Orange County, CA. In 2001 Jan was elected to the MUFON Business Board after a successful MUFON Symposium in Irvine, CA. This success was repeated in 2011 with the Symposium again held in Irvine, CA. Jan has been instrumental in the creation of MUFON’s Mission and Goals, as well as the creation of the MUFON Case Management System (CMS) used by State Directors and field investigators worldwide for reporting UFO sightings, assigning a case to an FI, and archiving the UFO Case and investigation data in the MUFON Files for future research.
David MacDonald replaces jan harzan as head of MUFON...
David MacDonald was selected by the Board of Directors to replace Jan Harzan in July 2020. MacDonald has a strong business background and a life-long interest in UFOs. He runs Flamingo Air, Inc., a full blown Air Carrier Operation and Flamingo Air Academy, the nation's largest FAA approved Aircraft Dispatcher Certification School. He is a professional pilot and an avid scuba diver. His business background includes establishing the MacDonald Defense Company, the largest independent security firm in the region, opening a manufacturing firm which produced an array of wireless microphones, listening devices, and other clandestine gizmos. He served eight years as a peace officer in Kentucky. His involvement in MUFON includes: Board Member, Executive Director Emeritus, State Director for Kentucky, Field Investigator Administrator, STAR Team Administrative Director and Assistant Director of Investigations.
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The annual symposiums begin...
During the first year it became obvious that MUFON should host an annual conference where detailed papers could be presented. It was a way for investigators and researchers to meet face-to-face to share the results of their work with the MUFON membership and the general public.
The first day-long conference was held in Peoria, Illinois, on June 13, 1970. The conference began with Dr. Utke speaking to a near capacity crowd on “UFOs and the Problem of Scientific Evidence”. Ted Phillips then presented “Burned Circles and Saucer Nests: What is Their Significance?” John Schuessler followed with “The UFO – Just Beyond the State of the Art.” Then came professional photographer Robert Smulling with an interesting UFO slide show. APRO secretary Coral Lorenzen presented “UFOs – 1970, An Up-to-Date Report.”
The evening session featured Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who concentrated on the future of UFO investigations. Dr. Hynek advised the “progress in UFOs will be made by dedicated individuals in the next few years, using their own funds and specializing in one area.” In the final analysis, he said, bringing scientific recognition to the UFO problem boils down to upgrading the data about UFOs.”
At the second Midwest UFO Conference, held in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1971, the presenters were required to submit copies of their planned presentations before the conference. These papers were bound as the proceedings of the conference and were made available to the conference attendees. That policy continues and a very professional set of conference proceedings is available at every MUFON Annual Symposium. This is a fantastic record of the outstanding work done by UFO researchers.